Choosing the Beauty is not repression

So, anyone following my FB timeline knows I am obsessed with deer, and learning somewhat more about them as I feed the locals  a little, hoping to both fatten them up for the coming winter, and also luring them close so they stand a better chance of not being shot. Most of the deer I have here are does, and all but one have fawns, one doe has twins. I love these animals with a depth that words fail to describe; I’m not enough of a poet to avoid sentimentality when I write, but fortunately many others are. Lately I’m reading Richard Nelson’s moving and also challenging classic “Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America”…and he is able to capture so much of what I feel. I hope to read much more on deer and learn by direct experience, but right now, I am just chewing on this book, reading a passage or two,a few pages at a time, and using those words as guidance, insight, even lectio divina; for a nature  spirit such as myself, it’s often holy writ to me, poetry like Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, writers like Annie Dillard and Linda Hogan, speak to my heart so powerfully. But last night, just before I slept, I happened on a few pages describing the severe suffering of deer in winter – some of it caused by humans, as in the doe who became entangled in barbed wire fence and hung there, literally helpless, till she died; much more however was nature at work, and the suffering is extreme. It was horrible for Nelson to come upon carcass after carcass, fawns frozen into the lake, barely alive young ones curled desperately against the frozen bodies of adults. It broke his heart to see, and it broke mine to read.  We err whenever we see nature as all benevolent and perfect; tempting as it is to do so, if we truly wish to know Her, we need to know both faces, the light and the dark, the beauty and the anguish.
I slept uneasily, thinking of what lies ahead for my small herd of sweetness.




And I woke up thinking, it’s not a good thing to dwell on the sorrow, either. Choosing the Beauty is not repressive if it is informed by a knowledge of the fuller picture.

So today I will focus on what I love about deer, starting with their beauty.

“Slowly . . . slowly, I lift my binoculars, and she fills up the field of view. Her coat is light reddish tan. I can pick out every long, coarse summer hair on her flank and the remnants of winter fur that haven’t shaken free. I can see the rise and fall of her ribs, the thin white fur and ripe bulge of her belly, the graceful arch of her neck, the angular shape of her hindquarters, the sculpted muscle and sinew of her legs. I can see the shaggy, white fringe of her tail, and the sooty fur on its tip for which the black-tailed deer is named. I can see the pale white markings beneath her chin, the gray fur and translucent skin of her enormous funnel-ears. And when she turns I can see her slender, elongated face, the conspicuous dark patch on her forehead, the twitching of her muzzle, the brightness of her great, shining eyes.

She leans down to graze, nuzzling back and forth amid the starbursts of yellow daisies, the violet blush of laurel, the snowy clusters of bog orchids, the leathery green of Labrador tea, the delicate dancing blades of grass. So exquisite is she–like a rose petal on a sheet of jade–that it takes a supreme act of self-control to keep myself from jumping up and shouting aloud.”
Richard Nelson, Heart and Blood



And this is true for me as well. No matter how many times I look out the back windows and see one there, often staring hopefully toward the carport door from which I emerge bearing fruit and pellets – no matter how often, I am thrilled in my soul, with a sense of joy and privilege, humility and happiness. It is this love that sustains me when I face the difficult task of learning more and going deeper into the reality of life in the natural world. It is not repression to focus on the Beauty, it’s a tool for rescuing oneself from an abyss of pain. It’s an act of hope, perhaps even radical hope. And so I trundle out in the frosty dawn to toss apples and scatter a little feed, humming to them, reaching to them but not holding on at all. It’s this hope that carries me along and makes me better, whether it is crazy or not. The grace and beauty of the wild is ours to witness and cherish, ours to immerse in as we can, in tiny bites or full commitment, but not ours to own or exploit.  And it’s the harshness of the wild that reinforces gratitude for the technology we have that keeps us warm and offers relief from suffering, reminds us that all is in fact not terrible with “civilized” life. As always, it’s about the balance.

Touch them lightly, for their wildness is who they are. And once tamed, they cannot be untamed. Leave them with their pure nature intact. That is what I tell myself every day. Be grateful for how they have touched your heart, and be respectful of who they truly are.
They are Wildness incarnate.

They are Beauty…and this world needs as much of that as it can get.


Samhain Eve – and the Morning After



Today is November 1, the feast of All Hallow’s,  or Samhain in the Irish Gaelic tongue –  the version most popular in modern culture,  via Wicca and neo-Paganism. There are several linguistic variants — Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Breton — but they all mean roughly the same thing — “Summer’s end”. And boy, this bone-chilling morning, there can be little doubt of that. After the balmy, alternately damp and sunny weather of most of October, November is here with a venegeance. The Crone spreads her dusky shawl across the skies…the last of the leaves scatter and fall, leaving a landscape both haunted and forbidding. I went to bed last evening after some annual traditions (leaving food out for the ancestors, meditation on what needs to be cleared away in my life, a bit of chocolate) and woke up to a much more serious energy all around. The Crone has arrived, there is deep chill in the air, and in case we weren’t getting the message – there is snow.

Light and wet snow, albeit, but still. This morning was different, on several levels it was. As Mara Freeman puts it “At the end of October, the doorway to the dark half of the Celtic year swings open”. I went to bed after a day spent walking in the forest,  sipping hot chocolate outside watching birds, and leaving the windows open –  and awoke to the beginning of Winter.

The ancestors were clearly pleased with my offering; I was a bit horrified to realize, come suppertime, that I had no baked goods, had no energy to start on a cornbread, and my offering plate would be just what I had to hand, and a little eccentric at that. But it seemed to have, for the most part, been well -received; everything but the sliced orange was gone in the morning! That’s Balderson’s extra old cheddar, some candied ginger, a bar of excellent dark chocolate, some raw organic almonds, and my very favorite strawberry yogurt. I photographed before and after, but the Vista gods won’t let me share today. C’est la vie, as long as the food was a hit. I spent some time before sleeping, in deep evaluation of things I need to clear from my life, aspects of my patterns that no longer serve me well, and  of course, in communion with my loved ones who have passed from this world, most especially my brother and my aunt.

A peaceful Samhain eve here at the Ark. And I have the weekend cleared for more.Delint2



But of course, there is more, not the more I wished for, either. November 1 marks the beginning of firearm season for deer hunters in this area. And this for me is a deep and complex time, of attachment to the deer I have come to know, fear for their safety, and a struggle to understand that while many hunters are looking for trophies or just enjoy killing, others honour their prey and hunt ethically and with respect, making sure not to maim deer and also using the whole animal. I fear that these latter types are the minority.. but I can respect their ideology, if not comprehend how they can look at these visions of loveliness and pull the trigger. Life feeds on life, I repeat; a good hunter takes a life much more quickly than a pack of wolves will. I get that. However… I fear for the twin fawns who come here all the time, they will not survive winter if their mother is killed. I fear, horribly, for any of these sweet beings to be injured but not killed, to escape in suffering and die a protracted death, as often happens.
This morning, for the first time yet, no deer in the back, on the hill, across the road – no deer(.Just checked again -it is after lunch and guess what – no deer). It is most certainly, today, “as if they know”. And why would we ever doub that they do?

Today; an oversized  truck parked by the entrance to one pathway that goes deep into the forest. Ontario plates. We know what that’s about. They are in peril, all of them – Clarissa and the twins; Saoirse and Sassy, Aine by herself, alone and brave, the new girl I call Stripey, with the feistiest (male) fawn, who stomps and snorts and cavorts at the sight of me. All my sweetlings. No matter how sentimental it sounds, they are.

And the back field lies empty and strange, despite the flurry of blue jays and nuthatches and black caps and the endless carry-on of raven and crow.
I walk to the feeders, to the herb garden, to the Faerie corner,making unnecessary compost visits,  pacing, fretting, trying  to let go, praying not to hear the guns.

The vigil begins….as the summer ends.



And so today; divination for the year ahead…baking…and incense making, so I can consecrate it on this sacred day. Rest. Animal time. Reading. Today has been a Holy day for me for close to 30 years, and I need the magic.
But the countdown is on, and I will be praying every morning and night, for my lovely, lovely deer to make to through this fortnight ahead; alive, together, and unharmed.